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Sick-leave in Japan


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
I followed an interesting debate on a German mailing list. Someone working for a Japanese company complained bitterly he had to take holidays when he was sick. Being sick counts as being on holiday. A lot of Japanese save their holidays in order to consume them in the event of a longer disease.

Is that Japanese labour reality? What does labour law stipulate?
I have heard of it. Some acquaintances in Tokyo were scolded for taking their dued holidays instead of "saving them". The boss would say "its not because you're entitled to 2 weeks a year that you have to take them ! We work during this time, and you go to Hawaii !". It was an American company, but with a big proportion of Japanese staff (including this boss).

but i've heard that japanese has a very different work culture compared to the american... or perhaps this is how some of the japanese companies being so successful???
Found some more info on the net.

Whether an employee is entitled to sick-leave or not depends on the individual labour contract or, if it's a larger corporation, on the collective agreement. There seem to be collective agreements that stipulate a suspension of the individual contract in the case of sick-leave.

=> Governance and Tripartism Department (GOVERNANCE)

Many enterprise based collective agreements and work rules establish suspension periods. A suspension period is a period during which the labour contract continues to be in force, but he worker has no duty to work and the employer is partly or even completely released from paying wages. [...] In any case, each suspension with a possible wage decrease or even cut needs o be appropriate to the situation. Suspension also often occurs, if the employee is on sick leave, becomes a full-time union official or attends full-time training. The amount of wages to be paid in these cases is determined at the enterprise level with no minimum set by law.

Therefore sick employees may not only face the threat of losing their income for the time on leave, they may also lose their jobs.

Check this out:

Sick leave as described under "Suspension" is not ruled by law. It may be established by work rules (Art. 89 par.1 of the LSL). Work rules can also stipulate assistance for injury or illness (Art. 89 para. 8 of the LSL). However, the employee must be given time off to carry out official duties (Art. 7 of the LSL). During menstrual periods, female employees can also request days off (Art. 68 of the LSL).

As stated above, sick-leave is regulated in individual labour contracts or collective agreements. Seriously, would any office lady ever dare to take off because of her period? My wife told me that her last employer in Tokyo expressedly told female employees that they would not tolerate sick-leave "under the pretext of menstruation". In that case their salaries would be cut for the month in question!

A lot of smaller companies don't have collective agreements. Therefore the decision whether workers are entitled to sick-leave or not is completely arbitrary and up to their superiors.
I am on a contract that allows sick leave as are most Japanese teachers. (I am not Japanese nor do I teach Japanese, I teach English) I have had no trouble getting sick time, but most Nihon-jin I work with would not think of using their time. They use vacation time. It seems to be as much cultural as labor law related.
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